JOURNEY BACK INTO TIME

by Kirk Hastings

A "Lost" Adventure of Superman

Clark Kent was sitting at his desk in his office at the Daily Planet typing an article when his super-sensitive ears suddenly picked up an odd sound.

Rising, he walked over to his office window. It was a pleasant sunny day out. He looked out, focusing his hearing on the odd sound.

It was a burglar alarm.

Immediately he began to loosen his tie and yank his coat off. Within seconds the colorful costumed figure of Superman leaped out of the window with a loud whoosh.

Soaring over the city Superman followed the burglar alarm sound like a bloodhound would follow a scent. He ended up heading for the 1st National Bank located on Santa Fe Avenue in southern Metropolis.

Inside the bank two thugs whose faces were covered by handkerchiefs were holding the small bank's customers and lone security guard at bay, while a third burglar with a stocking pulled over his head waved a gun at a young female teller. She hurriedly dumped piles of bills into the thief's satchel, which he held open on the counter.

"C'mon Jack! Let's go!" one of the handkerchiefed burglars yelled.

Just as the three men made for the door it burst open and Superman entered the bank. The two thugs who were near the door fell quickly to his mighty fists. The third turned and fired his gun repeatedly at the Man of Steel. The bullets ricocheted off his invulnerable body, as Superman advanced on the third man. A quick karate chop across the back of the neck and the masked burglar went down.

Within moments two police cars had pulled up out front, and Inspector Henderson, Sgt. Helen J. O'Hara, and two other beat officers came charging in.

"She's hurt!" one of the bank employees suddenly yelled. Superman turned about, and saw that the bank tellers were all crowding around the stall where the young woman had given the third robber the cash.

Superman, followed closely by Sgt. O'Hara, circled around the bank counter and found the woman lying on the floor, as Henderson barked orders to his men to handcuff and secure the bandits.

"She's dead!" announced the man bending over the woman. Superman stooped next to him to examine the young victim. She was a pretty brunette, no more than 25 years old. And she had a red stain in the middle of her white blouse. She was not breathing.

"How did it happen?" O'Hara asked. She was just behind Superman, bending over his shoulder.

"I don't know," Superman answered, puzzled. "The only shots fired were fired at me ..."

Then suddenly the terrible truth dawned on him. Abruptly he stood up, a look of horror on his face.

"It was me!" he said, half to himself. "She was killed by a bullet that bounced off of me!"

O'Hara put her hand on his shoulder. "It wasn't your fault," she told him. "It was an accident ..."

But Superman was in no mood to listen to excuses. He was directly responsible for the death of this innocent young woman, and he knew it.

He pulled away from O'Hara and headed toward the bank's entrance, a look of frozen shock on his face. He passed right by Henderson, who made no move to stop him.

After he exited the bank, Superman walked slowly away down the sidewalk. O'Hara came out behind him, and watched him walk away.

He made no attempt to fly. Instead he just walked away down the street, his head down, until he disappeared around the corner.

# # #

The sun had gone down more than an hour before, but Clark Kent had not bothered to turn the lights on in his apartment. He sat slumped in an easy chair, staring at the floor in the dark.

He had been fighting with himself for hours about whether to give up his role as Superman or not, because of the death of the teller. He felt personally responsible for the tragedy, and his conscience was torturing him unmercifully about what had happened.

If only he could go back and do everything over again ...

Suddenly he sat bolt upright in the chair.

Maybe it WAS possible to do everything over again! He remembered the time machine that had been invented by Professor Oscar Quinn a few years ago. Quinn had showed up at the Daily Planet offices one day with the machine while Clark, Lois, and Perry were escorting gangster Turk Jackson to police headquarters, because Jackson had decided to turn states evidence against the mob. (At the time Quinn had used the false name "Twiddle" because he had not wanted Turk to know his real identity.) Demonstrating the machine's ability while they were all in the Planet elevator, Quinn had successfully sent them all back to the prehistoric era. Fortunately, before anyone could get hurt, Superman had found enough Corborium-X (a rare mineral found only in meteors that the unit needed to function) for the machine to return them to the present. Superman had then confiscated the machine from Quinn, saying that it was too dangerous to ever use again. Quinn had agreed, and handed the machine over to Superman for safekeeping.

Kent leaped up from his chair and strode purposefully into his bedroom. He opened the door to his bedroom closet, and pulled on one of the wall hangers located on the back wall. A panel slid open, revealing a secret compartment that he often used to hide his Superman uniform when necessity demanded that he take it off (such as going for a medical exam, or a day at the beach). The time machine was still sitting where he had left it, on the floor of the compartment.

He pulled the device, a square-shaped unit barely bigger than a TV set, out of the closet and brought it into the living room, where he sat it on the floor. If he could set the machine to send him back 24 hours into the past, then he could go back to before the bank robbery took place, and relive the entire incident, making sure in the process that the bank teller would not be killed.

Excited at this plan Clark, with the help of his photographic memory, began to set the controls of the machine the way he had once seen Quinn do it.

What he did not know was that Sgt. O'Hara had come up the elevator in his building and had just walked up to the door of his apartment. She stood there for some moments, fighting with herself whether to knock or not. She felt just as badly as Superman had at the tragic events of the afternoon. She had figured out some time before that Kent was Superman. Now she wanted very much to comfort him, but wasn't sure whether she should reveal to him the fact that she had penetrated his secret identity or not.

She struggled with herself for some moments about what to do, but finally she raised her hand to knock on the door.

At that exact moment, just a few feet away inside Kent's apartment on the other side of the door, he threw the switch on the time machine.

There was a burst of light. Clark found himself momentarily enveloped in a strange misty cloud. When the mist cleared he was standing in a completely different location, outdoors, next to an ancient-appearing concrete building. It was the middle of the day. The time machine still sat at his feet. And Sgt. O'Hara was standing just a few feet away from him! Her hand was raised, as she had just been in the act of knocking on his apartment door.

They both looked at each other in surprise. Clark glanced around at their surroundings and immediately realized that something had gone very wrong. They were no longer in 20th century Metropolis. Instead they were both standing on an ancient city street!

Clark jumped forward and took O'Hara by the arm. Before she could even say anything he hustled her into a nearby alley, where they were no longer in public view.

"What happened? Where are we?" O'Hara managed to stutter.

"I don't know exactly," Kent responded. "I'd say, from the look of the settings and the architecture, we're somewhere in Europe, maybe Italy, some time during the ancient Roman Empire. Probably the first century A.D."

"Oh my God! How did we get here?" O'Hara asked him.

Kent explained about Quinn's time machine, but didn't elaborate on why he had used the machine. He told O'Hara that Superman had 'lent' the device to him.

O'Hara pondered this, trying to take it all in. "Why would we end up in ancient Italy, then, instead of ancient North America?" she asked.

"I would imagine that we're probably in the same spot in space as the one we left," Kent conjectured, "but because of the revolution of the earth, we've ended up in a different location on the earth's surface."

"Can we get back?"

"Sure. All I have to do is reset the machine to return us to where we started from."

Kent bent down and adjusted some controls on the unit. Then he flipped the switch that activated the device.

Nothing happened.

"What's the matter?" O'Hara asked, fear creeping into her voice.

Kent studied the machine. "I'm not sure. Everything seems to be in working order. It must be the Corborium-X."

"Corborium-X?"

"Yes. That's the rare mineral that powers the unit. It apparently is only good for a one-way trip."

"Can we get more?"

Kent stood up. "Corborium-X is only found on meteors from outer space," he admitted.

"Well, that's easy enough for you to take care of."

Kent looked at her. "I can't fly into outer space!" he objected. "Who do you think I am, Superman?"

O'Hara came up to him and took his glasses off his face.

"Yes," she said quietly. "I do."

Kent started to deny it, but then he just sighed.

"How long have you known?" he asked.

"Quite a while, actually."

"I should have known, I guess. You're trained to pick up on things that other people miss."

"You know I won't ever let anyone know," she told him.

Kent smiled. "Yes, I know you won't."

She smiled back at him.

"Well, now what do we do?" she asked.

Kent started taking off his tie and coat. "I guess I go get us some Corborium-X," he replied.

O'Hara watched, fascinated, as Kent turned himself into Superman. She was the only person in the world, other than Sarah Kent, who had ever actually seen that transformation.

Superman draped his Clark Kent clothes over his arm and picked the time machine up.

"I'll hide these in some safe place, and then go looking for the Corborium-X," he said. "But what about you? Will you be all right while I'm gone?"

O'Hara looked around. At one end of the alley there were some clothes hanging from a clothesline. One of them appeared to be a woman's short-sleeved, knee-length tunic.

"Sure, I'll be all right. I'll, uh, borrow some of that clothing over there, so I won't stand out."

Superman nodded. After telling her to be careful, he took a running start and leaped up into the air.

O'Hara watched him depart. Then she walked back to the clothesline. She took off her shoes, stockings, coat, holster, gun, and blouse, and slipped the tunic on. There was also a longer outer tunic on the line that was designed to be worn over the shorter one. This she also put on, clasping it at the shoulder. She hid her 20th century clothing securely behind some stones, and then walked out of the alley. There were no sandals available, so she just went barefoot.

She walked down the street, fascinated at the ancient era that she was witnessing first hand. She had always been a student of history, and she was mesmerized at being able to see history as it really was, instead of just drawings in a book.

Before long a chariot came thundering down the street. She stopped to watch it.

The chariot carried two men. One was obviously the driver, dressed only in a loin cloth. The other man was a tribune, fully outfitted in his Roman armor. He wore a helmet with a red horsehair crest, and a long red cloak that flapped behind him in the wind.

Reminds me of someone I know O'Hara thought.

As the chariot went by the tribune looked at O'Hara. He tapped his driver on the shoulder, and the driver abruptly brought the chariot to a halt.

The tribune stepped down from the chariot and walked over to O'Hara. Struck by her blonde beauty, the tribune remarked that she must be a goddess since she was so beautiful.

It was an obvious come-on, even for 65 A.D., but since O'Hara could not understand ancient Latin she had no idea what the tribune had said. She just smiled and nodded.

She was unaware of the fact that most ancient Roman women tended to wear a hooded cloak when they went out, to hide their beauty from eyes other than those of their husband's. This, and her "modern" appearance, with her attractively coiffed hair and facial makeup, had instantly caught the tribune's attention. And his male interest.

Encouraged, the tribune boldly propositioned her. Again, not understanding what was being said, O'Hara just smiled and nodded her head again. Getting the wrong idea, the tribune grabbed her by the arm and started leading her back toward his chariot.

O'Hara tried to resist, but the tribune was too strong for her. So she executed a modern judo move on the man, using his own weight and strength against him. He went flying over her hip and landed unceremoniously on his backside in the dirt, his helmet flying off.

The driver of the chariot laughed at the comical sight of a fully-armored tribune being dumped onto the ground by a much lighter woman. But the tribune immediately jumped back to his feet and glared angrily at the driver, who instantly suppressed his desire to laugh further. The tribune pulled his short sword from its scabbard and threatened O'Hara with it.

Now O'Hara was sorry that she had left her gun and holster back in the alley. The tribune motioned to the chariot driver to come down, and barked some orders to him. O'Hara stood quietly as the driver produced some rope from the chariot and proceeded to tie her wrists together. Then he grabbed her by the arm and dragged her back to the chariot, where he motioned for her to climb in. She did as she was told.

The tribune recovered his helmet, then also climbed into the chariot. The driver snapped his whip at the two horses, and the chariot took off down the street.

# # #

After some minutes of riding through the streets of the town, the chariot approached a large circular building that looked like a smaller version of the Coliseum in Rome. O'Hara had guessed that this city was not Rome by its size; it was probably some smaller town in another province.

The driver pulled the chariot up to one of the many entrances to the building. There was a man standing there dressed in a rough leather tunic who held a whip in his hand. There was some discussion between the man and the tribune, and then the tribune grabbed O'Hara by the arm and pulled her roughly down out of the chariot. The man with the leather tunic then took her by the arm and started to drag her down a long tunnel in the coliseum building.

It didn't take a genius, O'Hara thought, to figure out that she had probably just been arrested, and was probably being led to a jail cell. She was sure that the tribune had not admitted to the jailer that she had tossed him on his backside. He had probably charged her with some greater crime, in order to cover up his humiliation. God knew what he had accused her of.

The jailer came to a particular wooden door with a large bolt across it. He pushed up the bolt, then pulled open the heavy door, roughly shoving her inside.

O'Hara fell to the dirt floor within the dark cell. There were a number of people already in the cell, both male and female, of all ages. A couple of the young women there rushed over and kindly helped her up.

As she dusted herself off she saw that there was a makeshift cross stuck upright in the dirt in one corner of the cell, made up of two broken pieces of wood. Some of the people were kneeling in front of it, as if in prayer.

These people were apparently early Christians. That being the case, it also did not take a genius to figure out why they were in this cell.

# # #

After hiding his civilian clothes and the time machine in a cave located in a mountain range just outside the small Roman town, Superman had soared up into space looking for a meteor. Before long he found what he was looking for. His microscopic vision revealed the Corborium-X he was seeking. Fortunately, the meteor was not large, and he grabbed hold of it.

Reversing course he headed back down to the earth. He landed near the cave where he had hidden the time machine, and ducked inside. Using his mighty hands he dug the Corborium-X out of the meteor. Then, using his heat vision, he molded the chunk into the proper shape to fit the time device. He inserted it in place.

Satisfied that the time machine was in working order again, he put it back into its hiding place, and then leaped back up into the air, headed toward the small town where he had left O'Hara. He landed with a thump in the alley.

He looked around. She wasn't there. Using his x-ray vision, he found her 20th century clothing hidden under a large stone. Noticing the outfit missing from the clothesline, it was easy to guess what had happened. She apparently hadn't been able to resist doing a little exploring of the ancient world they had accidentally found themselves in. He certainly couldn't blame her for that.

He grabbed a man's tunic and a longer toga from the clothesline and put them both on over his Superman costume. For the most part they covered it; only the very tips of his boots were visible. He then used his microscopic vision again to find O'Hara's footprints. He followed these out of the alley to where they led to a set of chariot tracks. Puzzled, he nevertheless followed these tracks as well.

Presently he came to the coliseum. He couldn't imagine why O'Hara would go there, especially in a chariot with someone she didn't know. But he could now no longer follow her footprints, as the coliseum's walkways were all hard concrete. He walked into the building's shadowy tunnels and began looking around.

There were a number of other people entering the coliseum from its many entrances, and it became clear that some kind of program was scheduled for that afternoon. He couldn't gather any clues as to what it was from the snatches of conversation that he heard. But he followed the crowd toward the seats situated around the coliseum's interior arena.

He stood at the top of one of the aisles that divided the seats into sections, looking around for O'Hara. So far there was no sign of her.

Presently the afternoon's show began. A priestess dressed in a white robe came out of the procurator's box. She came up to the wall that separated the seating area from the arena. Climbing up onto the wall, she raised her hands to the heavens and began to pray loudly to the Roman gods for a successful event.

Superman leaned over toward a man sitting near him and casually asked in ancient Latin what the program for the day was.

The man told him that a group of Christians that had been arrested for treason against the state were to be executed today in the arena.

Superman straightened up again. A look of great consternation came across his face.

What should he do? He was duty-bound not to do anything that might change history, as that could have disastrous consequences for his own time. Yet on the other hand, how could he stand by and allow a group of innocent people be slaughtered right in front of him for a non-existent "crime"?

As he wrestled with himself over this thorny moral dilemma, he observed that a pair of tall wooden doors at the opposite end of the arena were opening. Once they were fully agape a small throng of about 20 or so people staggered out into the arena, herded by four Roman soldiers with whips. The group was made up of all ages and both sexes, including older people and young children.

And one of the women was Helen O'Hara!

The group was herded into the center of the arena. Once they were there the soldiers retreated back into the wooden doors, which were pulled closed. The people in the stands began to scream and holler at the frightened, huddled group.

Helen was standing among them, her arms around an older woman who was having trouble standing up. As Superman watched in horror, a barred gate at the end of the arena slid up, and a half-a-dozen mangy, hungry-looking lions were released.

He needed no further prodding to make up his mind. To blazes with history, he thought. He had to do what was right, and he had to do it now.

He sprinted the short distance down the aisle to the wall of the arena. Reaching it, he climbed up onto it, then leaped downward onto the sand.

An indignant shout went up from the crowd at this unscheduled intruder. Superman ignored them and strode over to the group of Christians. O'Hara, a look of relief and happiness on her face, came over to meet him. She embraced him as they met.

"It's all right," Superman whispered in her ear. "I won't let them hurt you. Any of you."

He suddenly grabbed her and pushed her behind him. He turned to face the lions that were slowly creeping toward the group. One of the lions, either bolder or hungrier than the rest, broke from the pack and charged him.

Superman met the charge head-on. As the lion came up to him it reared up on its hind feet and pawed at the Man of Steel in an attempt to tear his head off. One of the Christians screamed. Superman ducked the swipe and grabbed the lion around its torso. The lion savagely rent the toga and tunic that Superman was wearing, but Superman paid no attention. He threw the lion heavily to the ground, which momentarily stunned it. After a moment it got up, shook its head, and started to stagger away.

A second lion charged. It grabbed Superman with its razor-sharp claws, but they had no effect on the Man of Tomorrow. With a mighty backswipe of his hand Superman knocked the big lion backwards. It tumbled to the ground and rolled over twice. When it got up again it looked unsure as to what to do. It had not expected its puny human prey to fight back so powerfully.

By now the toga and tunic that Superman wore was in shreds. So that it wouldn't impede his movement he tore the rest of it off and threw the remnants to the ground, standing fully revealed in his Superman costume (which was completely unharmed).

The coliseum crowd suddenly grew quiet, completely stunned by what they were seeing.

Superman faced the other lions. He inhaled mightily, filling his powerful chest with air. Then he blew it out at the lions with the force of a hurricane. The lions tumbled helplessly across the arena, a cloud of dust and sand accompanying them. By the time Superman was finished exhaling the lions were halfway across the arena.

Slowly they got up and shook themselves, trying to get rid of the dirt they were covered with. Now thoroughly cowed, they all started to slink back toward their enclosure. One by one they disappeared back into the opening from which they had come.

No sound came from the stands. But after a moment the procurator in his private box barked orders to a centurion standing next to him. The centurion stepped to the front of the box and ordered a contingent of six soldiers who were standing along the inner side of the arena wall to go and kill the costumed stranger in the arena.

One by one the soldiers somewhat reluctantly climbed over the wall and lowered themselves onto the arena surface. They drew their short swords and headed slowly toward Superman, who stood awaiting them.

"They will kill us!" one of the young girls in the group of Christians screamed.

"No they won't!" Superman reassured them. "I promise you they won't!"

The soldiers approached the Man of Steel. He stepped forward from the Christians and defiantly put his fists on his hips.

As a group the soldiers struck him with their swords. All of them broke against his skin, leaving the soldiers weaponless.

Then Superman waded into them. Within moments all of them were lying unconscious on the arena sand.

Superman then walked toward the procurator's box. He stopped in front of it, and his powerful voice rang out throughout the arena.

"Citizens of Rome, listen to me!" he boomed. "I am here to protect these people! They have done you no harm, and they are innocent of any wrongdoing! You are not to harm them! Hear my words - if anyone should try to persecute these people again, I will surely return and punish them as they deserve!"

His speech finished, Superman turned and walked back to O'Hara and the Christians. "You are now free to go your way," he said to the group in Latin. "I have made it possible for you to leave this place. Quickly, go somewhere where you will be safe."

Before anyone could respond, he scooped O'Hara up in his arms. He ran a few steps, and then leaped up into the air with her, soaring up out of the arena.

Every head in the coliseum craned upward, watching in awe as the Man of Steel disappeared into the cloudless sky.

# # #

Superman brought the time machine and his Clark Kent clothes out of the cave where he had hidden them, and set the device down in front of O'Hara, who was once again dressed in her police uniform.

"Do you think anything we did here will change history?" O'Hara asked.

"I doubt it," Superman responded. "This is an obscure province. And I think I – to use a old expression – "put the fear of God" into these people. I don't think what they saw will go beyond this town. If it does I don't think it will be believed."

"Why did you really use the time machine in the first place?" O'Hara asked him.

Superman explained his original plan, to go back 24 hours to relive the disastrous bank robbery. He put his Clark Kent clothes back on. When he was finished O'Hara placed his glasses back on his face.

"I'm still hoping that my plan will work," he said.

"For your sake, I hope so," O'Hara told him sincerely.

Superman touched her affectionately on the cheek. Then he stooped and set the controls of the time machine.

"Here we go," he said quietly.

He threw the switch.

# # #

When the mist cleared he was standing once again in the living room of his Metropolis apartment. It was daylight. O'Hara was there too, still facing him.

She looked around. "Did it work?" she asked.

Kent walked over to his apartment door. His mail was lying on the floor in front of the mail slot, along with the day's Planet newspaper. He picked it up.

"April 25th, 1959," he read.

"It worked!" O'Hara exclaimed. "The bank robbery was on the 26th!" She threw her arms around his neck and hugged him. "Oh, I'm so happy for you!" she told him. "Now you can make sure that that teller is not killed!"

"Yes," he replied, smiling.

O'Hara looked at him. Then she tenderly kissed him on the cheek.

"And thank you for rescuing me from those horrible people," she told him.

He grinned at her.

"Anytime, sergeant," he said. "Anytime at all."

THE END